Why we’re expecting big returns from this enterprise

Benj Gallander, Ben Stadelmann, and Philip MacKellar
Wednesday October 3, 2018

We regularly use the filter on the Globe and Mail website to find stocks worth buying. Among the major corporations that our search has led us to purchase and that we currently own are Bank of America, BlackBerry, Flex, Orange and RioCan.

But there are also numerous smallish enterprises that the filter unveiled. One that Benj bought was O2Micro International.

Founded in 1995, O2Micro designs, develops and markets power-management components for electronics manufacturers. Based in the Cayman Islands, the focus is on Asian sales, although there are nominal revenues outside of that continent.

With a population of less than 61,000, the Caymans cannot exactly sustain a company with ambition, but it will help those looking for tax breaks.

The enterprise has some beautiful numbers. While the stock trades at around $2.30 (all figures in USD), book value kicks in at $3.28 with no goodwill on the balance sheet. There is zero debt, which helps to negate risk. Insiders own about 6 percent.

There is about $40 million in the kitty between cash and short-term investments. Revenues have been trending upward, cresting at $60 million last year.

So, why is this stock so woebegone, having dropped from over US$20?

Though improving, sales are still only half what they were 10 years ago. Plus, O2Micro’s bottom line has sucked for years, bleeding red ink every year since 2012. That is a long time.

Why did Benj buy? One of the advantages of following corporations for a long period of time when they are in the doldrums is that positive incremental change can often be glimpsed — and future trends can be anticipated.

While following O2Micro, it had always struck Benj that the company was having difficulty regaining its footing, but earlier this year, it looked like the numbers were on firmer ground.

For the quarter ended March 31, net income surprisingly was positive, at better than $7 million. Last quarter reaped a far more modest $1.5 million, but back-to-back profitable quarters are noteworthy. Finally, the market had something to cheer about. As did Benj.

But there was one problem. When he purchases stocks for the Contra President’s Portfolio or for himself, he uses a one-to-four weighting system. A stock with a rating of one warrants a minimum bet; a four means four times as much money is invested. A better perceived risk-reward ratio leads to more cash being placed on the table.

In this case, O2Micro rated a one. However, only a small portion of the intended purchase — about 6 percent — could be fulfilled at the desired price. The bid was left dangling, in hopes of adding to this teeny-tiny acquisition, but it never transpired.

What to do with this minuscule position?

Some investors in this circumstance would decide to sell the position quickly, concluding that the insignificant dollar value at stake made it not worth the toil. But Benj elected to hold the stock and hope it would at some point appreciate to the initial sell target of US$3.74, if not clear that hurdle handily. While the handsome upward move has been lovely to see since the purchase at US$1.35 in May, lots of upside potential remains.

Obtaining partial (espcially miniature) fills when one buys or sells a stock is a bit of a pain. Yet rewards can still accrue to the patient investor. Though the proceeds might be slighter than originally anticipated, adding gains to the coffers, whatever the size, is beneficial. O2Micro offers some action, but not as much heavy breathing as anticipated.